Cattle Grooming Tips

There you are in the show ring feeling an explosion of butterflies while a judge appraises your steer. Will all the hard work pay off? Will you win a ribbon? Did you do enough to stand out from the rest of the class?

Those are just a few questions every serious competitor wonders during countless county fairs and livestock shows throughout the country. To help prepare for that nerve-inducing time in the ring, an industry expert and some 2011 National Western Stock Show (NWSS) winners and participants were asked for strategies and advice about getting a steer or heifer ready for the spotlight.

Nothing But Time
“It takes a lot of learning,” said Brock May, the 17-year-old winner of the prestigious Grand Champion Market Steer title at 2011’s NWSS. The humble Wisconsin resident won 2011’s Market Steer class and also earned the Reserve Grand Champion Open Prospect Steer title. “A lot of it comes from watching other people do it,” he continued. “Watching a variety of different people (helps). They have the Kirk Stierwalt clinics and he’s excellent at it.”

Kirk Stierwalt is a nationally recognized expert for his 23 years of clinics on showing cattle along with his title as National Training Advisor for the Andis Grooming Company. Always ready to teach, he was pleased to sit down and discuss showing cattle during the 2011 NWSS.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a county fair or whether it’s a national show, they are all important,” began an enthusiastic Stierwalt. “When you get to the grooming and clipping side, first off, with you working on your animal a lot, you become familiar with the things that are good about the calf and maybe some things that you’d like to improve on.”

Getting familiar with things about your animal that are good and/or need improvement requires time … and lots of it. The general consensus seemed to be that, unlike a scholastic exam, cramming for a cattle show was not a successful option.

“I think the important thing is to not try and cram a lot of work right before the show,” said Stierwalt. “I think that’s a big mistake. The key is putting in a little bit of work all the time. That adds up. I don’t care what you’re doing; it’s a time game … the more time you put into it, the more you get out of it,” he stated with conviction. “You’ve got your selection, your management, your feeding and care taking. You’ve got your clipping, your fitting on show day, and you have showmanship. All these things have to be working to some degree for you to get to the winner’s circle.”

Bathing Beauties
Handling a steer or heifer every day can make or break the chances for a top ribbon. One major tip provided was not to short-change the bathing process during that time.

“When you wash them, it takes a couple of hours,” offered Allee Maronde of York, Neb., who won a Grand Champion Market Heifer ribbon in 2011’s NWSS. “It’s a long process.”

“Use lots of soap,” said Texas teen Kaiti Robinson with a laugh. Robinson earned Reserve Grand Champion Market Steer honors in 2011’s NWSS and was happy to share strategies. “It stimulates the hair. And conditioner,” she added. “Make sure you blow it with a blow dryer every day, that way it will stand out whenever you get ready (to show). We washed him every day; sometimes we washed him twice a day.”

If the Robinson’s ended up having two classes in one day — as happened at the NWSS when they placed second in their first class which necessitated a return for the Grand Champion class later — the show prep process didn’t change a bit.

“We spent probably about two hours (bathing and grooming) before the first class and then redid it all again the second time,” revealed Mandi Maddox, Kaiti’s “second mom,” about the time put into getting their steer ready for a judge’s eyes. “Kaiti showed in her class, which was about 10 a.m., then we washed him, broke him all down and redid it again for 3 in the afternoon.”

“It was two or three hours getting him ready for the second class,” agreed the tired but happy teenager, before sharing a tip on how to speed up bath time without sacrificing quality.

“You also use more than one blower most of the time,” she said of getting a steer dry. “We have double blowers, so it dries their hair twice as fast.”

Clip It Good
A popular topic regarding showing cattle is the clipping process, which the interview subjects were pleased to share about from their collective experiences. An important tip right off the bat was to make sure most of the work was done before the day of the show.

“There are things that are bad about clipping from scratch at the show,” offered Stierwalt. “First thing is, you are under a time limit. Second thing is, you take a big chance on fatiguing your calf or wearing them out. The best thing to do is get all that done before you come to the show. Then when you get to the show, all you have to worry about is keeping your calf clean, full and rested.”

Another tip for clipping was to use more than one type of blade.

“You use a lot of different blades (and) you just kind of got to get used to what you like best,” stated May about clipping a championship steer.

“You use a number of different blades and clippers,” agreed Robinson.

“For the whole thing, we use three or four blades,” said Maronde about clipping her prize-winning heifer. “If you use one blade you get just a roughed out look.”

“The equipment you use can make your job easier,” commented Stierwalt.

“When you have one blade, you really have only one option. If you have four blades with you, you have a lot of options. You can deal with different hair in a lot of situations. The thing with those blades, you’ve got a chance to do some things that years ago would have taken a long time. Now I can do it with a blade that shortens up the timeframe and looks good.”

While multiple blades (such as Super Blocking, Medium Blade and a T-84) helped prep for the show ring, it didn’t replace the need for plenty of experience using them.

“It takes practice,” offered Scott Bang of Nebraska, while clipping miniature Herefords before a class. “Get right in there (and) don’t be afraid. Get your clippers and go. Everybody learns by making mistakes.”

“The most challenging part is probably the time,” described May about doing the clipping job well. “You’ve got to keep going over them to get them just right. That’s probably the toughest part.”

“You always learn,” said Maronde. “You can never get enough clipping of a calf. The challenging part is to get them smoothed out, to get their frame right and everything. That way they don’t look weird or have hair out of place or anything.”

“The more preparation you do at home, then naturally that’s less you have to do at the show,” summed up Stierwalt. “We will clip and reclip something several times at home. We might start two weeks out and kind of get to clipping on them. We might have 80 hours in clipping before we even get to the show,” he continued. “It might be one hour one day, it might be five hours the next day (or) it might be two hours. It’s all across the board depending on how the animal is acting.”

Stierwalt’s Summary
“I think the best thing they can do, especially getting started, is to seek out some help,” wrapped up Stierwalt about the whole process.

“Whether it’s a breeder, an Ag teacher, an extension agent, maybe it’s a personal friend, maybe it’s somebody they feel comfortable asking. It could be anybody. They can tell you the do’s and the don’ts. They can tell you, don’t make the same mistakes I did. The best thing I can say is, it does not bother me to ask questions. The whole thing you have to figure out is, why. The question, why do we do that? When you figure out we’re going to do this because, why? Then it makes sense. And when it makes sense, you understand it and will remember it.”

Miscellaneous Stierwalt Tips
A blade you don’t want to use in clipping cattle is the No. 10 blade, which is the most popular blade. The spacing between teeth is too narrow to use for clipping cattle.

Anytime you are blocking or topping hair, you will use a blocking blade.

Whatever it touches, it’s cut. It’s unforgiving. It cuts what you are doing.

Clipping is easy, but blending is the hard part of clipping. Blending the animal to a nice smooth looking animal with no definite lines is the hard part of clipping.

Smaller clippers are quieter, but not as fast. If you take too long to clip, the cattle get super tired.

It’s important that we teach these cattle some manners. Are we leading the calf or is it trying to lead us? Cattle are more of a repetition type of an animal. So when we keep doing these correct things over and over and over, then it just happens.

When a judge comes to talk with you in the ring, give the judge eye contact and talk to them face to face. Show the judges respect in the ring and pay attention to them. Have some personality in the ring. Show personality and passion about the animal. When you are in the ring, you are representing yourself, your family, your 4-H club, your region, etc.

You are representing more than just yourself.

You can find Kirk Stierwalt on the web at

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